Somewhere on a small island a long way away from here, an Archbishop will do something which seems to many, if not most, to make no sense
At this point, this blog could turn into an extended reflection on the absence of Church History from what is left of ‘theological training’ in some parts of the world. Suffice to say, ‘So?’ Anyone with the slightest grasp of the history of the last two thousand years will find little of interest in this ‘event’, an observation which only goes to reinforce my urge to write on our lack of ecclesio-historical awareness, as ‘the media’ has been full of ‘it’.
But it is the lack of another, deeper and more significant awareness, which I find inexplicable – far more so than the actions of a Bishop, Arch or otherwise. And that is the awareness of fact that the Church is a collection of sinners, and sinners do things which make no sense – Continually.
Unfortunately it appears that we are largely ignorant of this. It seems we nowadays believe that the Church is full of machines – whom like all the machines with which we are surrounded, never go wrong . . . or if they do we only need to replace them with a better one . . . We are under the demonic [sic] conceit that ‘there is no reason why everyone shouldn’t be good’ – ‘why everything shouldn’t ‘work” – ‘why bishops shouldn’t be able to fix everything’. Why else the outpouring of moral indignation etc.??
More evidence for this is seen in our (changing) approach to clergy and episcopal training. A Church on a small island a long way away from here, has decided to cherry pick promising candidates for the episcopate and put them through an ecclesiastical version of an MBA – ‘because clearly what we need are better management skills’ (the human mirroring of those ‘Oh so dependable’ machines – as we increasingly become like that which we worship . . .). No doubt to turn out bishops who look like this.
People who wear suits – whom our upbringing has taught us to trust because ‘they are obviously very clever, and of course that is what we need in the church’. If we make clever people bishops, all will be well, they will be able to fix things . . . (Of course those who hope that the decision of the Church of the small island far away to consecrate women as bishops will ‘fix’ this – probably has failed to note how, as was pointed out to me by one of the first women to be ordained in that church, ‘they all end up looking like the men’, and b) they’re sinners also.)
Yet more evidence of our ludicrous hope that somehow we can ‘fix’ the church is the inexplicable habit in some quarters of asking people to put their names forward to be bishop. Each then explains why under their ‘just and gentle rule’ the world will be a better place . . . and, ignoring the fact that they’re all sinners we tend to believe at least one of them (because we are also sinners). We pray about it, because we ought to, all the while ignoring the fact that we are sinners, and then we elect one of their number. A majority of folk say ‘Now everything will be better! Bishop John ‘is a wonderful person’ or Bishop Susan ‘has a Great plan!’ (All the while quietly complimenting ourselves on our ‘discernment’) A minority are disappointed. Some of those passed over leave in high dudgeon, because the Diocese has made ‘such an ‘inexplicable’ choice, ‘my plan for fixing everything was far better’. There is a big service at the Cathedral where words like ‘hope’, ‘future’ and ‘confidence’ are bandied around, and sooner or later the new Bishop does something ‘inexplicable’ . . .
Of course if we knew our church history we’d not be surprised, but like sheep who are disturbed every morning by that yellow ball in the sky . . .
Some years ago one of my former tutors at college gave a wonderful talk on false understandings of our Life in Christ. In it he compared Thomas the Tank Engine – a tale of a railway on a small fictional island, off the coast of a small island a long way away from here – to that rather wonderful and scary book ‘Where the Wild things are’. At the time I heard it as a gentle ribbing of those who understood the bible in that good old Deuteronomistic way – “Be Good! everything will be well”. A world where ‘everything works’, and when it doesn’t we say we’re sorry and everything is working properly again. (Thomas the Tank Engine was after all written by a nice middle class English Vicar in the 1950s) His point was that ‘faith in its glory’ wasn’t really like that, it was much more like the exuberant, unpredictable world conjoured up by Maurice Sendak.
Yet I cannot fail to surmise that at root so many in the Church think along Thomas the Tank Engine lines, not in terms of ‘Being Good and it will all work out’ – but because they have forgotten that we are sinners, (except in a rather nice 1950s middle class sort of way – ‘we occasionally do something naughty, or indeed ‘inexplicable”) We think that we know how it should be fixed, we think we know the faults of others, we can see how it would be better if only they listened to us, read our blogs . . . We are all busy playing The Fat Controller . . .
The Church is messy, very very messy, of course, because it is full of sinners, and no piece of legislation (think Microsoft patch), no ‘new bishop’, nothing is going to change that, except people who wake up to the reality deep in their hearts that we are all ‘under the same condemnation’, and put down their stones, and their spanners . . . that is how the true healing of the Church, and thus the World comes about
This run of blogs etc. on the actions of an Archbishop on a small island a long way away from here, puts me in mind of a series of articles run by ‘The Times of London’, in the days when it went under that moniker. It was entitled ‘What’s wrong with the World?’ Perhaps unsurprisingly the editor was not scratching around to find someone to opine, and numerous luminaries, men in suits, perhaps even bankers . . . wrote lengthy articles explaining EXACTLY what was wrong with the world.
Eventually it all became too much for one reader, who responded with ‘a letter to the editor’, thus
‘What is wrong with the world?’
It also put me in mind of a recent saying of Pope Francis, pointed out to me by a friend
‘We should all become islands of mercy’
As Someone once said
“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
It is rumoured that he was Not a sinner, yet we crucified him
And there are even wilder stories going about that he was raised from the dead
Now THAT is inexplicable . . .